Imagine for a moment that you and your partner come in to see me for support in forging a stronger relationship. When I ask you to tell me about the issues you’re having, you do what many couples do and blame the other. “He did this…” you might say, while your partner insists, “She did that…” and you both look to me for validation.

At this point, I do validate your obvious frustration and underlying pain. But I don’t join either of you in judging the other, because neither of you is my actual client in couple’s counseling – instead, the relationship is.

What does this mean?

It means that I visualize your relationship as an actual thing between you and your partner. It has a mass and a shape – usually with deep threads of connection, often with shredding and fraying, sometimes shot through with hurts and pain. It means that I view my job as supporting the health of this thing between you – knowing that each of you is joined to it.

How do I do this?

I do this by supporting both of you to examine your relationship towards mending these shreds and frays, towards healing the holes that may be there. I do this by joining with each of you towards uncovering your hurts, towards expressing your truths in a way which will bolster your relationship, towards understanding your partner’s positions.

I do this by being an advocate for your relationship, and by extension, for each of you. I do this by rooting for the relationship to flourish, and by extension, for each of you. And, often, by focusing on the relationship as an actual thing existing on my couch between you, you are then able to do the same, to ask yourselves, “What’s best for this relationship?”

Sometimes “what’s best” is compromising your position during a conflict and accepting influence from your partner. Sometimes it’s intentionally not letting your anger escalate, but rather taking a break and learning how to self-soothe. Sometimes it’s setting healthier boundaries and learning how to state your needs. Sometimes it’s really trying to understand and empathize with your partner’s point of view. Sometimes it’s finally booking that second honeymoon you’ve been promising yourselves for years. And sometimes it’s taking a break for a while and working on yourself.

Visualizing a relationship as an actual thing that needs tending to grow and flourish is a helpful metaphor in my work as a couples counselor, and hopefully for you as well.

Close your eyes and visualize your own relationship. What are the threads of connection? Is there any fraying? What do you think would be best for the health of your relationship?